Chapter 4: Beginning of the Everlasting Night

As my eyes tried to focus on an unfamiliar ceiling, I went back through my memories from this morning. After that long recollection, I took a big, deep breath, and looked around at my surroundings.

I'd woken up on a bed with a splendorous canopy. I remembered arriving late to the theater in the morning, curtain rise, act one concluding, helping with prop-making... being teased by Len, telling Meiko about Rin picking up a stray kitten... Then when I was alone on the stage, I picked up a letter and went to read it... and then what? I thought I heard the buzzer for curtain rise in the distance... But as much as I focused my thoughts, my head was blank, and I couldn't remember what happened next.

Was this... one of the green rooms? I hadn't slept well the day before, so I was at peak fatigue. Maybe once the first day was finally over, I had a dizzy spell and collapsed. I looked out the window and saw a beautiful full moon high in the sky, crossing the meridian... Which meant it was still only midnight? The wind blew fiercely outside, shaking large tree branches. The rain seemed to have stopped.

Suddenly, I heard loud sounds mixed in with the wind - thump, thump, thump. What could be making that? An eerie noise that seemed to reverberate off something from far away. Though I could hear it clearly like it were right at my ear, it was so echoey to imply the source was quite distant. But taking a look around, there was no one in the room... Then the sound stopped. I was probably just hearing things.

More importantly, what was everyone else up to? I told Meiko to start the afterparty without me, so surely they were already partying in green room #1. It had gotten so late. I had to hurry...

Getting out of the bed and taking one look around the unfamiliar room, I turned the doorknob and went out into the hallway. Lamps were placed every few meters along the wall of the dim hallway, shining dubious light.

Did the theater have a hallway like this? The century-old theater did have some parts renovated over the years, but for the most part retained the same gorgeous Adam-style interior from its construction... Yet the lights, windows, walls, display shelves and chairs, carpet... Everything I saw was clearly different from what I was used to. Everywhere I looked, I saw the same unified style of furniture. Had they remodeled while I was asleep...? No, that was ridiculous, and would take more than a day.

Heading down the long hallway, I saw the grand stairs and hall up ahead. They, too, were similar, yet different from the theater I knew. Where could this possibly be? I peered down the hallways surrounding the stairwell. Then, I noticed Rin and Len squatting in front of a clock in the hall below. But were the stairs always so long? The two of them seemed close enough, yet felt very far away.

"Rin! Len!"

I leaned on the handrail and raised my voice to call out to them. But they didn't respond to me. Could they not hear me? I shouted again, louder.

"Hey! You two!"

The two of them spun toward me at nearly the same time.

"AhhHH... YOU broke the CLOCK..."
"Oh NO, OH no! Time has COME to a STOP! You said IT! If ONLY this MOMENT could last FOREVER! The clock MUST have HEARD your wish! YahaHAHA...!"

Those lines... They were the ones the twin prodigies had adlibbed after my unbelievable accident broke the clock - managing to take advantage of it, amazingly, but also just so the show could go on. Were they lapsing back to the first act that had already ended? Maybe they were still doing their usual practice of fully assuming their roles. Rin especially liked pranks, so she'd be likely to tease me - by acting out the scene I'd messed up again.

"...Um, really, I'm so grateful for what you did then. Thanks to you two, the show didn't have to stop, which was such a relief. Anyway, um... I guess I fell asleep. I might have collapsed? Did someone carry me to a bed? I really can't remember much..."
"ColLAPSED...? What DO you MEAN?"
"Don't ask ME!"

So I hadn't collapsed, at least. But then why was I sleeping in a bed?

"EVERYone went TO bed on THEIR own TWO feet!"
"Yes, to BED THEY went, to SLEEP!"
"Everyone...? S-So everyone is asleep but you two?!"

They did say they'd discuss things for tomorrow and party in the green room, so maybe they just drank too much and got incredibly sleepy. I mean, I wasn't the only one who was tired, so it was possible... But then why were these two awake?

"Yes. BeCAUSE, the parTY's over, so eveRYONE went to THEIR rooms."

Though I didn't know that, not having participated in that party. Unless, don't tell me; I did take part, but drank so much I forgot about it... That couldn't be it, right? I did feel my head ache a little when I tried to trace my memories, but surely that couldn't be from a hangover.

As for this place... If this wasn't the theater, it was possible it was a high-class hotel in some corner of West End which Kaito... or possibly Luka, had paid for us to stay at.

"BeSIDES, the play HAS stopped."
"TIME has stopped!"
"LOOK! Because THE clock is BROken, TIME in the PLAY has STOPPED!"

Rin pointed to a grandfather clock stopped just a few minutes before midnight. It looked remarkably like the clock I'd broken at the end of act one.

"HeeHEE... It's STOPPED... YahaHAha!"

Rin laughed, again with her unnaturally stiff Doll Girl expression plastered on her face. Why did things feel so off? We were having a conversation, yet I had the feeling that things were somehow misaligned. Something's fishy here... I hurried down the stairs, and the two slowly stood up. The strange sense of distance I'd felt earlier, why they seemed to be so far away, it was because...

Rin was a little bit shorter than me. Len was about that same height. And yet before me now were dolls that came up to around my hips. Yes, so it seemed - two genuine dolls.

"Ball joints...?"

In observing the small doll boy, I noticed... unmistakable, ball-jointed doll legs. Not just makeup for the play, but actual doll legs, of a distinctly different shape from the legs a human would normally have.

"Well, YES? Didn't WE tell YOU? We're DOLLS!"
"WHY...? You mean, WHY do dolls HAVE ball JOINTS? Or WHY are we DOLLS that can TALK? BeCAUSE we told you THAT, too; our PART is to be LIVING dolls!"

My spine shivered at their grinning, joyous, eerie smiles. No. What I was asking was, "Why have you turned into dolls?" Len had been turned into an actual doll. And while her dress hid it, perhaps Rin, too... Glancing toward her dress, I saw she had the exact same grin as her twin.

Yes, in the play, they were supposed to act as living dolls, and both had put in endless practice to easily assume that role. But what I was seeing now was the actual dolls themselves from Crazy ∞ nighT. The twins were just as prodigious as was claimed, with talent and intelligence that matched the adults, so little things wouldn't throw them into confusion. But how could they stay so calm about their bodies being turned into dolls...? No, not even that, how could it look like they were enjoying this situation?!

I fearfully looked Rin in the eyes. Sparkling with curiosity, they looked back at me.

They were big. Even bigger than her usual eyes, which were big enough... Just like a doll's in that way. They were so glass-like, I could only see them as truly being glass. I kept my gaze fixed, and she didn't even blink, nor did she look away. And still she looked up at me joyously. Her lips were slightly lifted, but her eyes didn't indicate a smile... and I saw no pupils in the back of the glass balls.

I wanted to run, to get away from these terrifying two at once, but my legs wouldn't budge, as if temporarily paralyzed. I'd completely cramped up. I-I had to say something... I could only hear my pulse loudly beating in the quiet hall. I was afraid of this silence. I was afraid of these creatures in front of me!

"Um, I, I'm, c, curious about the others... I-I'll go see them!", I finally wrung out.
"Okay! GOT it!"

My legs finally moved, and quickly took me down the dim hallway left of the hall without looking back. I could hear the twins' giggling from behind, echoing off the tall ceiling. I felt an uneasiness in my chest, and I just couldn't bear to stay there any longer.

Rin and Len were scary... No. That wasn't them. Just thinking about the reason they made me feel frightened was scary. A thought that had briefly crossed my mind upon waking up, then settled down in the corner, crawled up my neck again. It can't be... No, it can't. That's not possible! At any rate, I had to find someone, and call for help. Call for...

That's right. I should go outside. Even after 10 PM, I'd seen lots of fans waiting for us to come out on the street. And today was a Friday, and the nights were long in West End. So somebody would surely be out there. I quickly went back the way I came to the hall, hoping I didn't have to meet those two again... Once I made it to the end of the hallway, I peered into the hall, glancing toward the clock. They weren't there anymore. I sighed with relief.

I put my hand on the front door. But pushing and pulling wouldn't budge it an inch. I wondered why... It didn't look locked. I shoved it with the weight of my whole body, but still nothing. Were there any other exits? Aha! Maybe I could escape out the windows in the south hallway. Those windows shouldn't be locked... Gotta get to the hallway...

At that point in my thoughts, my legs, which were headed back for the same hallway I'd just tried to go down before, came to a halt. How did I already know...? I wasn't looking anywhere but ahead of me earlier, and certainly not at the windows. I gulped down my spit. Head still reeling in confusion, I took careful steps, one at a time.

Paintings large and small hung on both sides of the hallway. They had varying motifs, from landscapes to people, and the moonlight coming in the windows added color to their worlds. Finally, I arrived at the large window on the first floor, and sure enough, it wasn't locked. I applied force just as with the front door. But this too wouldn't open. It started to drizzle again outside. Trees shook in the strong winds, and the forest appeared particularly eerie.

Forest... Why was I in a forest? A forest in the dead of night. An unknown mansion. Rin and Len looking like actual dolls. And despite me surely never being here before, I knew where things were... How did my body know with pinpoint accuracy about the windows in the south hallway?

That unthinkable possibility crept up closer to my vision, and I resisted the urge to just nod to it any second now. This was the spitting image of the play's world... The world of Crazy ∞ nighT...

I didn't know this mansion; I'd never been here... But the Villager in the play knew about it. Because before the party, she'd gone with the maid and the dolls to help shut the windows... That minor detail, about the windows in the south hallway of the first floor, was written in the script. My heart pounded like an alarm, and my body shook. I'm dreaming... that's what I wanted to believe. But if this really were the world of the play... I ran back down the hallway and approached the clock I'd seen earlier in the hall.

"What are you doing there?"

I was startled by the sudden echoing voice and looked around wildly to find its source. Kaito stood in the hallway upstairs.

"Mr. Kaito!"

I called his name, relieved to see our dependable leader. Unlike Rin and Len, he looked perfectly normal and human. I ran up the stairs to him.

"I wouldn't recommend running; this mansion is old, and the steps are rather steep. An accident once happened here, you see."
"There are many strange things about this mansion... And there's much I don't know, even after years living here. I'm almost tired of hearing about curses this and ghosts that. Now then, everyone's waiting in the living room."
"Um, Mr. Kaito...!"

I approached and looked him in the eye, then spoke with desperation similar to earlier today.

"I just saw it. There's something strange about Rin and Len! They're dolls... Their limbs turned ball-jointed! The two of them turned into real Doll Twins! Tell me, where... where is this? What happened while I was asleep?!"

Kaito blinked a few times, then tilted his head slightly.

"Hmm...? What are you saying? The doll twins have always had ball joints... I received them at the same time I received this mansion from my grandfather. I heard that they were created by the witch who lived in this forest... But she's gone now. So I suppose I can't say for sure whether they always had such joints..."

"T... That's not what I meant! Weren't they human? Until just a while ago!"
"...I don't know what you're thinking, but when I inherited them as master of this mansion, they were already dolls. I don't know what exactly the witch did... but perhaps it was something of that nature. They've also been able to talk like humans ever since that time..."

Shocked, I turned away from his stare. It was the same feeling as when I talked to Rin and Len... He was talking just as if he really were...!

"Did you... see something frightening here on these stairs? Like a ghost, say."

I sensed his always-kind eyes turning faintly cold. A young aristocratic lord with the blood of a long-standing family, refined and educated. His cold gaze carrying a slight grief, he was the master of the mansion, with the duty of organizing the eccentric residents... That was his expression. The usual calm and kind leader who got us all in order, had a weakness for women, and was easily won over by Rin... This was completely different from that gentle personality of his.

"Sigh... Well, we certainly wouldn't be surprised to hear that you did see a ghost. Strange things appear to be happening in this mansion."

His grief-shrouded eyes clouded a little bit more.

"It would seem the next page of the script has gone missing."

Chapter 5

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